Return to R. Thomas

Twenty-five years on, the South Buckhead restaurant remains delightfully weird

When Richard Thomas opened R. Thomas' Deluxe Grill (1812 Peachtree St., 404-881-0246, www.rthomasdeluxegrill.net) in 1985, it was a complete novelty. I loved the place for its easy-going, eccentric charm. It seemed straight out of San Francisco, with echoes of the psychedelic era in its décor. Two of my friends worked there. It was open 24 hours and featured the typical menu of a diner — burgers and breakfast — but better prepared than usual.

Thomas, who moved here from California after a successful run in the restaurant business there, immediately set about making the new space a tableau of his own passions. He began gardening almost immediately and, about five years later, started housing parrots on the premises. It was (and remains) delightfully weird.

But, wait, there's more. In 1990, Thomas installed a juice bar that basically overtook the dining room, which was then moved to the patio space, adding to the eccentric appearance of the place. Next, Thomas was possessed by raw-food demons, and, with the help of nutritionist Donna Gates, added vegetarian and raw dishes to the menu. He also began retailing them in local grocery stores.

I have never been a fan of raw food. In fact, it plays havoc with my digestion. I didn't much like vegetarian food at the time, either. So, even though the original dishes remained on the menu, my enthusiasm for the place waned. Thomas told me that I wasn't alone. Business slowed, but he and son James, who took over day-to-day management 10 years ago, remained faithful to their shared vision to satisfy vegetarians and carnivores alike.

Obviously, Thomas was prescient. Vegetarian food has hit the mainstream and the city has a large community of raw-food eaters. So, R. Thomas is regularly packed. Families with children love the place and the late-night hours attract an after-the-club crowd.

I recently returned to the restaurant — a Scoutmob coupon inspired me — after an absence of perhaps five years. It was indeed slam-packed with a brief wait. We loitered next to an array of deafening chimes which Wayne and someone behind us competitively rang.

We had an enjoyable meal. Wayne stuck to the original Thomas Burger, a large patty of natural-range beef on a sourdough bun, to which he added bacon and cheddar cheese. Hey, at least he didn't have fries. His side was a sesame-seaweed salad, which he loved.

I opted for one of the six vegetarian bowls, the Southern Vegetarian, which included collards, Southwestern-spiced corn-millet casserole, smashed potatoes and shiitake gravy. Dollops of butternut squash and leaves of lolla rossa lettuce surrounded the bowl. Except for the overly strong seasoning of the corn-millet casserole, I liked the dish a lot.

I also ordered a red-potato and corn chowder that had almost no corn in it, but had decent flavor. Wayne ordered a gigantic smoothie called Energy Soup, with apples, avocado, sunflower sprouts, dulse and mixed greens.

The weirdest dish we ate was a raw chocolate truffle. I can't even begin to describe it. It was chewy as hell and I cannot imagine eating three of these, the usual serving, without inducing severe temporomandibular pain. The taste was OK, but I preferred our other dessert, a slice of conventional Key lime pie.

The restaurant's menu is almost comically huge. In fact, James told me he recently hired a "menu engineer" to redesign it. Service is, as always, a little loopy but not bad. If you haven't visited here in a while, it's time to go back. I should warn you that it ain't cheap these days.

Here and there

After seeing The Social Network at Midtown Promenade, we darted into Desi Spice, near the theater, for a light meal. We both ordered curries — Persian-style chicken dhansak for Wayne and kashmiri lamb for me.

The two were good complements for one another. The dhansak was spicy-hot while the fruity kashmiri was sweet — almost too sweet.

The restaurant has a good lunch menu which several of my friends recommend all the time. ...

I've mentioned the popular Scoutmob several times. It's an e-mail service that offers 50 percent off at a different restaurant every day. It's important to note that the cost reduction almost always has a limit. So it's not 50-percent off the total bill, typically. It's 50 percent off a specified amount.

For example, at R. Thomas, we had a 50-percent Scoutmob reduction. But it was only on the first $30, so the actual reduction on our $60 meal was $15, or just over 20 percent off the total bill. I'm telling you this because I've had a handful of complaints from people who followed my advice about Scoutmob. ...

Day of the Dead, Nov. 1 and 2, is rapidly approaching. So far, the only restaurant I know that is planning anything like a specials menu is Bone Garden Cantina. The Nov. 1 menu additions are on the restaurant's Yelp page.

There will also be plenty of drink specials, and if you show your server a tattoo of a skull, skeleton or Day of the Dead design, you get 25 percent off your meal.

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